I’m slightly afraid of open water and am not what anyone would call a strong swimmer. Needless to say, I don’t surf.
But I really, really wish I did. I’ve always been more than a little obsessed with the idea of surfing and with surf culture (and with Blue Crush, if I’m being honest!). I think surf lessons are a must on my life list, but in the meanwhile, I’ll just try to compensate by dressing the part.
I discovered Heidi Merrick a few years ago – I remember seeing the Huntington dress on Shopbop and falling in love. I don’t even know if I realized that the dress was made in America – but I still remember it, and I still wish I’d bought it. As I started to follow Heidi’s blog and instagram account, I fell more in love with the brand – and the thought and care Heidi puts into her work. I have since added several pieces to my wardrobe – each piece inevitably becomes a favorite, worn again and again.
Heidi graciously agreed to take some time out of her day to meet with me when I was in LA… I was more than a little overwhelmed as I walked into her studio – it can be scary to meet people you’ve admired for so long! But Heidi is amazing. She emanates positive energy – I could have talked to her all day (or just moved into her incredible studio!) and I think about our conversation often. Heidi is incredibly real, smart, gorgeous, funny, and thoughtful – If i didn’t like her so much, it wouldn’t seem fair. What’s more, everything she does is is done with hard work and integrity. She doesn’t pretend her work is easy, or overemphasize it’s importance, but there is a clear mission and purpose behind what she does, and she acts accordingly. I left our meeting inspired and motivated – and just wanting to be better.
I always feel good when I wear Heidi’s clothes – the beautiful fabrics, impeccable cuts, and perfect little details will make anyone look and feel beautiful. But I’m also proud to wear Heidi Merrick – and to support an amazing, inspiring woman and maker. Thank you Heidi, for all that you do, and for taking the time to share your story – and incredible advice – with us!
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND:
My dad makes surfboards – I grew up in a manufacturing family. My parents never compromised – I watched that and learned from it. We lived a beautiful, pure life that they wanted to live. I want the same thing. I want to live a nice life.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
My wedding dress was the first piece I made – my mom sewed it. We draped it and then I shredded the silk organza! Then I went to LA Trade Tech where I learned to make clothes. The collection has grown really naturally over the last 9 years.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The juxtaposition of wearable and beautiful – it can be hard to find in fashion.
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?
I know that I will only do this while I want to do it. Life is more important than work.
In fashion, you have a community that is working so hard to make things happen. There are people you’ve worked with over the years that are always so happy to see you – and you find so much in common with people that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. This is the place that I feel most useful – even though so much of my work is done by myself.
WHO DO YOU DESIGN FOR?
My idea of the elevated CA lifestyle. How I want the world to look. What I want women to wear. You can feel like you have a super beautiful, super relaxed life here. You can be resorty in the day and elegant at night.
It’s also always been important to me to have price points that my friends can buy.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER MAKERS & CREATIVES?
You have to be ok with carving your own path. Responsible production takes a lot of constant assessment, you are constantly making and remaking a commitment to yourself.
The best investment you can make is in your domestic life.
Never buy anything less nice than than the nicest thing you own.
I’ve always been obsessed with a story and meaning behind an item or a brand – that’s essentially why I started TAE – but as I interview more makers and designers, I’m starting to become even more interested with the way they combine their business into their lives – the full circle implications of what they do and how they do it. Because if you are working to build an ethical, responsible business, it doesn’t make sense to let your work consume you – we all know that’s not sustainable, but in this case, it is in direct opposition with the ultimate goal.
Josh & Lauren Podoll are my new shining example of partners – in work and in life – who are building a conscious life and business. Alexandra and I visited with them at their store in Burlingame a few months ago and I am so impressed by what they have built. The Podolls is a carefully (gorgeously!) handcrafted apparel line with a flagship lifestyle concept store in Burlingame.
Josh & Lauren met over 10 years ago in California – Lauren was a retail buyer and Josh was an abstract artist and painter who sold a collection of tee shirts to Lauren’s store. They started dating and working together concurrently – moving from vintage patchwork and screen printed tee shirts sold all over the the world to a high end label that they presented at fashion week. Over time, they saw an opportunity to connect their lifestyle and their work and, in 2008, launched The Podolls, focusing on everyday staples made with great materials and interesting details. Since then, they have launched a kids line, podots, to manage scrap waste from the women’s line, and opened their flagship store.
The gorgeous store allows Josh & Lauren to share their overall vision for the brand- they can make special products, such as leather jackets, and sell them without wholesale markup, and they can support their friend’s brands and brands with a likeminded ethos. There is strict criteria for what is carried in the store – as explained on each item’s hangtang – but other than that, they don’t call it out – while shopping, you just think you are in a beautiful, impeccably curated boutique.
Read on for a little question and answer session with The Podolls that proved to me that Josh and Lauren are living the dream – amazing style, surfing everyday, an awesome little kid, and a business that takes an immense amount of hard work but complements and evolves their lifestyle. And on top of that – they are incredibly generous, and are giving TAE readers a discount. Happy Monday!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
L: Textiles every season – sometimes we make our own for the collection. The lifestyles of the women I know – how will they wear our clothes and what do they want them to be? We want our brand identity to take a backseat to the clothes working for the people who wear them.
J: Textiles – you see a fabric and you think, “What does that want to be?” – you can’t force it. Contemporary art. Historical art figures. Living in San Francisco.
WHAT ARE YOUR STYLE ESSENTIALS?
L: A Goyard tote – everyday. Diamond studs. Boots year round. Our wing blouse in all of the fabrics. RGB nail polish. bkr water bottles. Shawn Burke pouches in a Podolls print. Clare V. Leopard Pouches. A great leather jacket.
L & J: Blue Bottle Espresso. Our son, Dashiell – who is also why we need so much caffeine.
J: Surfing – every morning.
WHERE DO YOU ESCAPE?
J: The Ocean. Whether or not it’s a good day for surfing, you are still in the ocean…with dolphins. You get 100 yards out and and it’s wild and free and amazing.
L: Being in nature and away from this material world we live in. Stay-cations. Discovering something new – like a new neighborhood restaurant.
WHY DO YOU MANUFACTURE IN THE USA?
It is so satisfying to be able to provide jobs and keep people in business. We love to support our local economy and fellow artisans. We appreciate the ability to oversee our manufacturing and quality. Also, the relationships we’ve made are the best part of what we do – there is a human side of manufacturing, and we believe that is translated into what you wear.
WHAT EXCITES YOU?
The store – it still feels really new. Some exclusive products – including leather jackets! – that we have coming in just for the store. The collection we are currently designing. The physical interpretation of our ideas as our samples come in – it feels like Christmas.
The Podolls have recently launched their new e-commerce site, and in celebration, they are giving TAE readers 15% off the entire site through the end of April! TROUBLE!!! Use code TAE 15 and stock up for spring! Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my favorites from the site… get them while you can! Thank you, Josh & Lauren!!!
While in San Francisco last month I visited the new Heath Ceramics Tile Factory with Alexandra of The Merchant Home. It was fitting that this visit would follow my day at Faribault Woolen Mill; inarguably, Heath has set the standard for reinventing American classics and preserving traditional production methods. The two iconic brands share a similar history and are alike in ethos and meaning; I’d imagine that Faribault today is in a place similar to where Heath was a few years ago.
Heath was founded in 1948 by artist Edith Heath and her husband, Brian, and became known for minimalist tableware and tiles. In 2002, Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic stumbled across the factory while walking in their new neighborhood in Sausalito. The couple were consultants, in industrial design and engineering, respectively, looking ‘to build a more satisfying and tangible design life highlighting designing and making.*‘ Though they thought the factory and the business looked interesting, they also could see that it needed some attention, so they built a plan to preserve the brand while growing the business. In 2004, they purchased the brand from Edith Heath, retaining the 24 employees working at the factory at that time*.
Beautiful, broken bud vases.
Tung’s ceramics collection.
The collection of Heath bud vases.
The entrance to the studio.
Today Heath Ceramics employs over 100 people, and along with the original Sausalito factory, has opened an LA store and design studio, a shop in the Ferry Building, and most recently, a state of the art tile factory, retail space, and design studio in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.
Alexandra and I had the opportunity to speak with Tung Chiang, the San Francisco Studio Director, in his incredible, light-filled workspace. The Heath Studio serves as a creative space to explore what Heath is and what it can be. The studio is self sufficient but set within the factory to increase interaction between the artistic, manufacturing, and selling processes. Heath is a perfect example of an end-to-end and wholly vertical process – there is no distance between making and selling.
Brand new, state-of-the-art machinery. Donna is petite, but that kiln is enormous. And this tile cutting machine reminded me of a transformer!
Working in the factory. Though the space and machinery is brand new, the process is still primarily the same as it was many years ago. The employees were methodical, attentive, and clearly happy and proud of their work. Likewise, Heath is equally as proud of their people.
Moving the tiles to the drying rack.
Smoothing the edges of the tile. Heath tiles are a little trickier to use than your typical tile due to the inconsistency inherent in hand-finished pieces and are typically installed by experts. Tile specialists at the retail space are available to help customers choose the right tile for their space. Edith Heath hated consistency, particularly in glazing, as it took away from the handmade effect.
Although new colors are the norm for the traditional Heath ceramics (per Tung, color is Heath’s modus operandi), the brand is cautious to add new products. After seeing an opportunity to add candle holders due to the amount of handmade candles sold in Heath shops, Tung worked for an entire year developing candle holders, merging traditional Heath aesthetics with contemporary techniques. At the end of the year, the products were reviewed as an exhibit, in order to evaluate which items worked within the context of the Heath assortment. Along with the new products, prototype sets were also sold to the consumer, as a way to explain what exactly it takes to get to a final, sellable product. To me, this is the absolute fulfillment of Catherine and Robin’s quest to make design tangible. As someone who once worked on monthly product launches and refreshes that were focused on newness and trend as opposed to viability and sustainability, this attention to detail and focus on doing the right thing is astounding and amazing – and likely a driving factor in why Heath has become the incredibly innovative yet still classic brand it is today.
The shop carries the entire Heath line and an incredible assortment of products from like-minded brands : Faribault, Commune, Matteo, Non-Perishable Goods, Iacoli and McAlister, Ladies & Gentleman Studio, Lodge, etc. While you are shopping, or drinking a cup of coffee at the Blue Bottle, you can see the light-filled factory through glass walls, allowing you, the consumer, to feel in touch with the maker and the process.
My favorites from the shop… Garza Marfa leather chairs, test vases by Adam Silverman, the Los Angeles studio Creative Director, traditional white Heath vases. That grey Adam Silverman vase absolutely came home with me.
The San Francisco Factory will also be home to a new, exciting aspect of Heath – a creative campus for artists and makers. Heath has plans to fill the block with creative businesses (currently, Small Trades, an ethical apparel line, The Aesthetic Union, a letterpress studio, and Blue Bottle Coffee have opened); it is designed to foster collaboration and facilitate communication, not unlike the relationship between the design studio and the factory. For this campus, for collaboration opportunities, and for retail products, Heath seeks out brands and businesses that not only fit aesthetically but are also run with a sense of integrity and value-driven goals. This, to me, was one of the most interesting takeaways from this exciting visit – it’s incredible to see a brand like Heath, which can and has aligned with some of the best brands in the world, focusing on developing the community of makers and designers at large.
Heath is an incredible example of what can be – if Faribault served to remind me why focusing on conscious design, production and commerce matter, Heath’s purpose is to teach us all that is possible and what can be. Ten years ago, Catherine and Robin did not intend to turn Heath into what it is today – they thought it was an interesting opportunity that would allow them to make design more tangible. Today, Heath is at the forefront of this movement, and instead of sitting back, the team is focusing it’s collective efforts on strengthening and building the community. That’s pretty amazing. And I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Thank you to Donna Suh and Tung Chiang for taking the time to meet with us, and to Alexandra for setting up this visit!